Contact forms have been a staple in website design for many years. A favourite of the marketing department, their aim is simple – to collect customer enquiries and data. But, unless they’re carefully designed, they can put off potential customers and become a magnet for spam.
So, let’s look at some simple things you can do to help your contact form do its job properly. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call the person submitting the form ‘the user’ or ‘the customer’…
From years of experience we can tell you the more fields (text, click boxes etc.) you add to your form the fewer submissions you will get. It’s that simple. Let's take an example, a simple contact form for new business enquiries.
Often a marketing team will want to capture as much information as possible from every form submission. This might include a name, email address, postal address, phone number, areas of interest, how the user found the company, if they have buying authority and, hopefully, a simple message detailing the enquiry. That’s eight or more fields for the customer to complete, some of which, like the postal address, require several lines of input.
This example of marketing department requirements might seem a little over the top but, in fact, it’s based on real requests. Here's the problem with that approach - most users won't want to give all their data away in the first instance (especially if it’s a first contact) and, in truth, most of this data will never be used, especially if email marketing is the company’s primary form of marketing communication.
A better approach is to pare back the fields in a contact form to the absolute minimum. The result will be a form that is quick and simple for a user to complete. There will also be fewer opportunities for the user to put the wrong data in the wrong field (especially when their browser ‘auto-complete’ function is used).
Simpler forms deliver a higher number of completed form submissions. The marketing team will get a little less information about the user (they’ll probably have never have used it anyway…) but the sales team will get a higher number of leads and the user is left with a better impression of the company.
This might seem a little obvious, but I’ve found many a contact form that submits, appears to work OK, but no acknowledgement email (or any other response) is ever received. When did you last test your form? Do you know where the resulting emails go? Is your form sending enquiry emails to the spam folder of an ex-employee perhaps? Again, I’ve seen this.
The simple answer here is scheduling. Mark your calendar once a month (or more often if you have a busy online presence) to check your contact form and make sure emails are generated for both the submitter (acknowledging their form submission) and the sales / support team. Oh, and test it using email addresses from various email providers. Some (Gmail as an example) often direct form submissions and confirmations straight to spam or junk folders.
If your website form allows, try and send the resulting enquiry email directly to the right person or department in your company depending on the subject of the enquiry.
Let's take the example of a manufacturer who might receive enquiries about sales, service, or spares through their contact form. A simple dropdown choice for the user that directs the resulting email to the right company department is a huge advantage. Yes, this adds an extra field to the form but in this case it's to the user’s advantage as they can expect a more informed and, most probably, quicker reply.
How many times have you filled in an online form that wouldn't submit and it took you far too long to work out what you’d done wrong? A good contact form will spot errors before the form is submitted and highlight the errors to the user in a way which helps them correct the error before submitting again.
To help yourself here, try putting the wrong information (or no information at all) into your own form then try and submit it. Does the form spot the issue before submission and stop the process? Does it give the user guidance on what to do next? How easy is it for the user to spot what you’ve done wrong and correct it? Remember, if your competitor’s form is simpler and easier to complete the user might just use theirs and not yours.
Like any website content these days it’s highly likely that the users will be on a smart phone or other mobile device. This means two things; the layout needs to be easy to use with just your fingers (rather than a mouse) and both labels and error messages should be easy to read on mobile devices.
Once the form is submitted a user will likely wonder ‘so what's next’? We need to tell them and reassure them they are in safe hands. If the enquiry is for a possible sale, then speed is clearly important in terms of how quickly submissions are answered.
As an example, if the sales department is closed at the weekend or operates during a certain set of opening ours this should be stated in the acknowledgement email and / or ‘thank you’ page that comes after any form submission. If the enquiry is for support, then links to any support FAQ pages, or similar, are also a worthwhile inclusion in the follow-up pages and / or email, just in case the enquiry concerns a situation that’s urgent.
If you're unsure about what’s needed, try and think about why someone is filling out the form and how they might be feeling at the time. If you can be empathetic with how your form’s ‘thanks’ page and acknowledgement emails follow up on form submissions, then it will go a long way to making your user feel like you're there to help them.
If all this seems interesting but you don't know where to start the most important consideration when thinking about your contact form is this:
First and foremost it’s a tool for your users.
That’s how it should be designed and that’s how it should function. A user that has finds your contact form simple to use will be left with a great first impression of your company.
If you’ve found this helpful, then we’re happy! Feel free to let us know your thoughts on this topic and, as always, if you need help with your own contact form then please let us know.